Execution goes awry

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BAGHDAD, Iraq – Two weeks after hooting Shiite Muslim guards marred the execution of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi government’s effort to execute two former officials of his regime with more dignity went awry on Monday when one of the men was decapitated by the noose.

Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam’s once terrifying leader of intelligence, and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the head of Saddam’s revolutionary court, were hanged shortly before dawn. The two men, like Saddam, had been convicted of murder in the deaths of 148 men from the Shiite town of Dujail. A videotape of their execution was later played for reporters.

Bandar shook with fear and wept as men in ski masks tightened the noose around his neck. He repeated the creed of Islam, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger,” even from beneath the darkness of the black hood that was put over his head. Tikriti remained defiant, denying his guilt.

When the trapdoor fell from beneath them, Bandar’s body dangled at the end of the twisting rope. But Tikriti’s head was ripped from his body, which plunged unhindered to the floor, its head coming to rest a few feet away, still in its black execution hood.

“I came close and looked down and it was so strange,” said Jaafar al-Moussawi, the chief prosecutor in the case and a witness to the execution. “We couldn’t comprehend it. Barzan’s body was lying on his stomach, his head was in the hood, and blood was everywhere.”

Bassam Ridha, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said the decapitation was an “act of God.” Ridha said officials hadn’t weighed Tikriti to determine how much slack to leave in the rope, a standard practice in hanging to ensure that the neck is broken, but not severed.

Still, he defended the executions. “There were no mistakes this time,” he said. “It was almost ideal.”

The video wasn’t released to the public, and no audio was available to reporters. Ridha said officials suppressed the sound to protect the identities of the people in the room.

Last month, the Iraqi government came under fire from human rights groups and Sunni Arabs across the region after a surreptitiously recorded cell-phone video revealed that witnesses to Saddam’s execution had taunted him and chanted “Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada” moments before he was executed. The scene fueled charges that the Maliki government is loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia is suspected of killing hundreds of Sunni men.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when asked about the executions during a stop in Luxor, Egypt, expressed dismay and said the hangings “shouldn’t have happened” in the manner that they did.

“We were disappointed that there was not greater dignity given to the accused under these circumstances,” she said. “It did not reflect well on the Iraqi government that it came out that way.”

U.S. troops transferred the two men’s bodies to officials in Salah ad Din province.

The bodies, wrapped in Iraqi flags, were then taken to the town of Awja, where they were quickly buried, said Ridha Muthana, a spokesman for the Salah ad Din province.

He said they were buried near Saddam at the request of Saddam’s daughter Regah.

Hundreds of people gathered at the cemetery Monday evening as women sobbed and men fired guns into the air.

Some yelled out, “There is no need for shooting all these bullets. … We need them to defeat our enemy in Iran and their hands in Iraq.”

Women also cried, “The Shiites beheaded him, the Shiites beheaded him.”

Government spokesmen said they would welcome neutral observers to future executions. “We would like that some human rights groups attend,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

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